I had no intentions, really, you have to believe me. I was willing to put our whole German Spa experience to bed, after all I'd been going on and on about it over on social media —here and here, if you missed them—and then I saw that this Friday is "National Nude Day" and I thought, well maybe just one more thing, because some of you might have been wondering: What about Franca, what are her feelings on this whole getting naked-with-strangers thing? So, today we’ll hear her answer.
On Being Naked
Objectively, being naked is the most natural way to be. We were born naked, so why do we, culturally, make it such a sensational and difficult topic? It doesn’t make sense.
For me, my nakedness is fraught with negative feelings. I have always been ashamed of my body. These negative feelings stem from my history as a survivor of sexual abuse, but they’ve been compounded and reinforced by the messages I’ve gotten from my family of origin as well as from our body conscious culture that shames women, in particular, who don’t fit the impossible ideal.
I’ve never liked being naked. I’m okay with it if I’m alone and no one else can see me. I don’t even like to wear a two-piece, honestly. My hangups go that far. Which can be frustrating for Steve, as he has never been afraid to take off his clothes anywhere, with or without people around. I’m perfectly okay with other people’s nudity. I think the female body is extremely beautiful, in all shapes and sizes–just not my own.
German Spa Culture
In contrast to my firmly held notions, Germans are very free with their bodies and nudity. We witnessed this firsthand when we lived in Augsburg, Germany back in 1993. On summer weekends, we would pack up our then nearly 3-year-old son and ride bikes to a nearby lake. We’d spend the whole day there, swimming, eating, and hanging out with friends. Often topless women were on the shores, doing the same things we were. It was perfectly natural.
When we visited our friend Renata in Berlin this past May, she suggested that we go to the spa for the day. She explained that she goes to the spa regularly as part of her wellness routine because it helps her feel good and healthy. And so we made plans to go. At dinner that night, we talked about the cultural differences between Polish and German views about nudity, the Polish being more reserved and conservative. I shared with her that I probably would bring my bathing suit, because my attitude towards nudity is more aligned with the Polish people. To this she said, “Franca, you can bring your bathing suit if you like, but you won’t be allowed to wear it.” My heart sank. I didn’t want to go at all, but I agreed because she suggested it. And I know Renata well enough to know that she would not send me to this spa if it weren’t a non-threatening space where I could be my natural self, but naked. Had Steve been the one to suggest this “textile-free” spa day, it would have been a hard pass.
The Vabali Experience
The Vabali Spa is an oasis of peace and tranquility inside Berlin’s city limits. It feels as though you aren’t in Germany at all, but maybe Bali (although I’ve never been to Bali, but I’ve heard it’s paradise). The long wooden loggia leads you to the check-in counter while meditation music plays softly in the background. This place is as relaxing as it is beautiful, with its Buddha statues and frangipani blossoms that adorn the indoor areas. Their dress code guidelines dictate that you cover up with a robe or a towel when not in the sauna, pool, or steam rooms; phew…I could delay nudity a little longer!
We went to the locker room, put away our belongings (including our phones because those aren’t allowed either), and walked over to one of the saunas. We hung our robes, put our glasses in their pockets, removed our flip flops, and went inside. There were a lot of people there and no one paid me any attention. Everyone went about their business like this was the most natural thing these people did every day. Almost mechanically, I rode this wave, went along, and trusted that what Renata had said was true.
There were three or four levels of wooden benches and it was really hot (duh). The posted temperature inside the sauna is 176°F. We chose our seats, put down our towels and sat down to wait for the infusion ceremony to begin. Each sauna experience has a different theme ranging from classic salt, honey and fruit infusions to revitalizing meditation and herbal treatments. The sauna was nearly full and the steam emanating from the heating element was creating a haze. It was all right, I started to relax. Once the ceremony started and the attendant began waving the giant fan, it felt fine for me to be in a room full of naked strangers.
Each infusion ceremony lasts about 15 minutes, which is probably all one can take at that heat! The heat and the infusion permeates your whole body. As I breathed and relaxed, I felt the heat and the herbs coming through my nostrils and every pore. After the ceremony, we showered, again, with all kinds of naked people around us, then went to gather our robes and shoes. I felt relaxed, but my head was buzzing, and not just from all that heat.
Weirdly my shoes weren’t in the same spot where I’d left them. I chalked that up to being nervous and put on my robe. I found my shoes, reached into my pocket to get my glasses but they weren’t there. I started to panic. I asked Steve if he had taken my glasses. No, of course he hadn’t. I walked back to the hooks where we’d hung our robes. Not there. My heart was beating faster, I was already imagining myself having to go through the rest of the day sans glasses–unimaginable since I am blind as a bat without them. I felt a hot flash coming on and thought, “ugh, this robe is so heavy, and the sleeves are so long,” and then realized, wait, the robe I brought to the spa fit me. The one I had on wasn’t mine at all!
Mortified, I made a bee line back to the hooks, found my correct robe and swapped it out with the one I had mistakenly stolen. I couldn’t stop laughing to myself. Steve had a good laugh about it, too!
Who would have thought that I would enjoy myself this much while naked? We saw all kinds of groups there: work friends enjoying a relaxing day, regular friends, couples, even grandparents with their adult grandchild. It was mind blowing. We were there for about 8 hours. It was amazing, from the sauna, to the steam bath, to the pool, to the cold plunge pool, to the restaurant…you get the idea. The place was magnificent. And surprisingly affordable. For the first time in my life, I said “yes” to nudity (for myself).
I wish I could end this story by saying I’ve left all of my inhibitions and the years of body shaming behind, but I still don’t really want to be naked, or for people to see me naked and still feel weird wearing a two-piece bathing suit. But I’m trying to be better about accepting my body, about enjoying nudity for myself. The next time we go to Germany, which we hope to do before the end of this year, we are going to try a less fancy spa to see if I can relax in less luxurious surroundings while naked.
I’m practicing to be freer with my body, sometimes sleeping naked when it’s too hot, though I still prefer wearing a nightgown. The other day, I bought a pair of new bikini bottoms to wear when we go to the seaside. I’ve been wearing them to sunbathe on our terrace. To practice, because I know I’ll still feel weird wearing a two-piece.
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